In the attack against the ideal of beauty

The Fashion Museum in Antwerp and the Museum Dr Guislain in Ghent each show in their own way how fashion and our soul interact in the double exhibition ‘Mirror Mirror’. Both with couturiers and unknown artists.

Two sides of the same coin. This is the best way to describe the double exhibition ‘Mirror Mirror, Mode & The Psyche’. Both exhibitions are different in appearance and content. But they start from the same starting point: what does fashion mean as a means of expression for people’s self-image?

The fashion museum is filled with big names of couturiers and artists. They reflect on the ideal of beauty and how to break it or comment on it. The set design is as you would expect from a modern fashion museum: hip and flashy. You will be amazed by all the silhouettes and creations, flanked by paintings on the wall.

The essence

  • ‘Mirror Mirror, Mode & De Psyche’ is a double exhibition in the Fashion Museum in Antwerp and Museum Dr. Guislain in Ghent.
  • In Antwerp, famous fashion designers show how they approach the ideal of beauty in their creations and turn them upside down.
  • Ghent is about outsider art. Unknown artists, sometimes psychiatric patients, design clothes to give themselves an identity.

The creations almost always stand out simply because of the theme of breaking the ideal of beauty. The beginning of the exhibition is dominated by the Jamaican hair artist Cyndia Harvey, daughter of a hairdresser. She worked for a long time in England in a hairdressing salon. There she discovered that hairstyles can also be made into art. The fashion world discovered her, later also an artist like Kendrick Lamar.

At the exhibition, she will work with designs by well-known couturiers such as Issey Miyake and Simone Rocha. The silhouettes get a separate hairstyle. It comes on top of the already broken ideal of beauty. In one of his creations, Rocha gives a mannequin a bulge on the hip. Get rid of the ideal sizes.

This can be seen throughout the exhibition. Walter Van Beirendock, Martin Margiela, Noir Kei NinoMiya all show different creations. They are fascinating, but it is harder to see how far the statement goes. Is it a burp or are they constantly questioning the fashion image in all their creations?

Also strong is the life-size dollhouse where you can get lost. Dolls and fashion go hand in hand. That entente dates back to the 14th century, when fashion was displayed by clothed dolls. They often traveled to advertise new designs beyond their own borders.

The dolls can be used for many purposes. Art also plays with it. One of the highlights of the exhibition is ‘La demi-poupée’ (one leg, arm and chest) from 1972 by the German artist Hans Bellmer. His deformed and sexually explicit dolls have their origins in Nazism. Bellmer thus responded to the Nazi ideal of female fertility. He is the best proof that dolls are not just cute children’s toys. A doll also brings out our dark side.

The exhibition in the Fashion Museum ends with the virtual world. Digitization and the move towards the metaverse make creativity almost endless. Safe on big and small screens. Video artists such as Ed Atkins, Pierre Huyghe and Melik Ohanian let go of the ideal image. They create a new kind of people who also wear a new kind of clothes.

The exhibition at the Museum Dr. Guislain in Ghent opens with well-known designers: AF Vandevorst. The duo’s ‘The Smallest Traveling Store In The World’ from a 2010 can be seen. The shop installation consists of parts of a hospital room welded together. AF Vandevorst often used the hospital environment in their creations. Over the years, they have received objects on loan from the Ghent museum.

The set design in Antwerp is what you would expect from a modern fashion museum: hip and flashy. In Ghent, people walk around much more modestly. Because of the vulnerability.

The installation sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition. The fragility of the human psyche and how this translates into the creation of clothes is central. You walk around much more modestly than in Antwerp.

Eijiro Miyama

Most designers are vulnerable. They design to tame the chaos in their heads or to give themselves a place and an identity in the world. Sometimes you have to laugh at it, but a second later you think it’s not appropriate. As, for example, with the Japanese artist Eijiro Miyama (88), whose film is shown. He has lived in an institution for the underprivileged for years. He cycles through the city of Yokohama in his own unusual clothes and headdress. He started it 15 years ago when he put an empty bowl of noodles on his head. People looked at him. He liked that and started decorating the bowl with flowers and then with toys. On his back he carries a piece of cardboard with messages of peace. He never talks to anyone. He thinks it’s enough that people look at him.

Confronting are the pictures of the English artist and fashion designer Jane Fradgley. She was inspired by the ‘strong clothes’ from the 19th century. With this strong clothing, patients’ freedom of movement was restricted in the psychiatric institutions of Great Britain. In order not to hurt yourself. The straitjacket is the most extreme form of this.

Giuseppe Verdino’s mop clothes.
©P. Giagheddu, ‘Cesare Lombroso’ Museum of Criminal Anthropology, University of Turin

You can’t go past Giuseppe Verdino’s creations. He lived and worked intermittently after 1902 at the Collegno psychiatric hospital in Italy. He was a cleaner there. He made trousers, scarves and tunics from used mops. It’s something you don’t see Issey Miyake or Walter Van Beirendonk doing right away. This is what makes the double exhibition so interesting. They complement each other in the right way.

©Collection Art et Marges musée – museum

Let there be no misunderstandings. The exhibition at Dr. Guislain does not only show art and fashion from patients. Sometimes the artists are outsiders in the sense of: outside the known art paths. Note the Brussels shoemaker Juanma Gonzalez. He decorated the soles of shoes that needed to be repaired when he wanted to paint. He saw no point in it. No one noticed, and besides, the Chinese ink disappeared again after a while. Or how art doesn’t even have to be visible to make the artist happy.

‘Mirror Mirror, Mode & De Psyche’ runs until 26 February at MoMu Antwerp and Museum Dr. Guislain in Ghent. 5 euro discount when visiting the second exhibition. Common catalog edited by Hannibal.

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